Over 1/2 of Oregonians and 1/3 of Washingtonians rely on streams and rivers for their drinking water, and these supplies are threatened on multiple fronts. From ageing infrastructure to a warming climate, water managers – especially those in small towns – have their hands full, and then some, with few financial resources to meet the challenges. To top it off, not many towns realize that upstream restoration can be a cost-effective and key component to their larger water management strategy. Over 1/2 of Oregonians and 1/3 of Washingtonians rely on streams and rivers for their drinking water, and these supplies are threatened on multiple fronts. From ageing infrastructure to a warming climate, water managers – especially those in small towns – have their hands full, and then some, with few financial resources to meet the challenges. To top it off, not many towns realize that upstream restoration can be a cost-effective and key component to their larger water management strategy.
“We want to make it easy for towns and water managers to turn to nature whenever possible, instead of concrete and chemicals, in order to meet their water quality and quantity goals.”
The Working Waters Initiative partners with communities and natural resource agencies to restore watershed health as a means of securing clean water for communities while improving freshwater habitat for fish and wildlife. We strive to:
- Build relationships between downstream communities and upstream land owners and restoration practitioners.
- Identify, implement, and monitor restoration activities in municipal watersheds to secure high-quality water supplies for communities while benefiting wildlife and the natural environment.
- Prove the economic sense of green infrastructure to promote its use throughout the Northwest.
Source Watershed Restoration
Development over the past 150 years in the Pacific Northwest has diminished stream and watershed health, which has, in turn, reduced the reliability of clean water for our citizens. Moreover, climate scientists tell us that changing conditions will make our water supplies much less predictable, with larger and more frequent floods and droughts. The good news is that there are adaptation solutions. Watershed restoration can be a cost-effective means to improve water quality today while also recovering ecosystem resilience to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
Watershed restoration activities can include:
- Restoring beaver populations to increase groundwater recharge and biodiversity
- Reconnecting a river to its floodplain through side-channel or alcove rehabilitation to slow stream flow and create specialized habitat for fish and wildlife
- Removing or replacing undersized road culverts to reduce erosion and improve fish passage
- Protecting riparian environments to reduce water temperatures and filter nutrients
- Decommissioning obsolete or unused roads to reduce chronic erosion and the risk of potential slides
These types of practices serve to reestablish the natural form and function of stream and upland habitat. For example, reconnecting a stream with historic side-channel habitat allows fish and other aquatic organisms to migrate to cool water refugia, while also slowing down flood waters. Slower-moving waterways give sediment a chance to drop out before it reaches municipal intakes, reducing the amount of filtration and treatment required before it reaches your tap. It also creates more opportunity for groundwater supplies to be replenished. As a result, many of the critical concerns we face with changing climate conditions are addressed: biodiversity and water quality are enhanced; the peak depth of floodwaters during storm events is reduced; and late-summer instream flows are improved.
Watershed restoration is also a cost-effective strategy for keeping drinking water treatment costs down. Money saved by avoiding additional “grey” infrastructure expenses can be put toward other community priorities. And, watershed restoration offers a means to revitalize local economies. Restoration projects put people to work and stimulate local economic activity. Studies by the University of Oregon show that an average of 80 cents of every dollar spent on habitat restoration stays in the county where the project is located, and restoration creates more new jobs than comparable investments in other sectors of our economy (see Hibbard and Lurie, 2006, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management).
Our focus is serving communities in Oregon and Washington that are interested in addressing water quality and supply concerns via upstream habitat improvement but aren’t equipped to take on projects alone. We work closely with a broad range of stakeholders, including grassroots conservation groups, local water managers, land owners, state and federal agencies, and elected officials, to build connections and create opportunities that lead to successful on-the-ground restoration and conservation actions.
Our Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a key element of our work and serves to broker working relationships between towns and organizations like Soil & Water Conservation Districts so that more upstream watershed restoration can be accomplished.
We know that restoring nature’s handiwork is an important bulwark against the negative impacts of climate change but we also need to pick up the pace of change. We need to bolster public support for healthy watersheds and make it easier for local decision-makers and water managers to invest in green infrastructure before gray, whenever appropriate.
Today, Working Waters is helping to build that support and incentivize investments through our Drinking Water Providers Partnership. And soon we’ll also be helping to make the business case for restoration practices as strategies for addressing water quality and supply issues in the Pacific Northwest. We know that a lack of quantitative information about green infrastructure’s performance and financial costs, in comparison with traditional, gray treatment approaches is an impediment to its widespread adoption.
Just like small towns around the region need assistance in looking upstream for solutions to their water management challenges, we can use your help.
Together, we can catalyze the enhancement of our region’s rivers and streams, recover the natural capacity of freshwater ecosystems to reliably deliver clean water, and prepare communities for an uncertain future under climate change.
Donate now and invest in our region’s drinking water. Let’s make sure that the Northwest remains the remarkable place we all love.